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The nurse greets Antigone, rubs her cold feet, and tries to persuade her to go back to bed. She also inquires where Antigone has been so early. Antigone says she has been out and praises the gray dawn, 'a world without color'. The nurse becomes suspicious and asks Antigone if she has a lover; the girl claims that she does. In a long speech, the nurse explains that she is angry because Antigone, a king's daughter, is behaving so secretively. She is especially upset because she promised the girls' mother that she would bring both Antigone and Ismene up well. The nurse declares she is going to report Antigone's strange activities to King Creon and reminds her that she is not considered attractive, like her pretty sister Ismene. Antigone wearily tells the nurse to leave her alone and not scold her.
The nurse complains about the great responsibility of raising, feeding, and caring for the princesses. She fears that Antigone will turn out to be wicked or improper. Antigone reassures her of her innocence and admits that she did not go out to meet a lover. As the nurse begins to weep in a confused fashion, Antigone tries to call her, calling her 'my sweet red apple'. She asks her dear Nanny to save her tears for later.
Ismene enters and is surprised to see Antigone up so early. The sisters share memories of their childhood. Ismene then admits that she is worried about their plan to bury Polynices. Fearing that Creon will kill them, she has decided against it. Antigone, the arch rebel since childhood, calmly says, "Of course, he will . . . but we are bound to go out and bury our brother." Ismene states that she does not want to die. Being older, she tries to reason with Antigone about her defiant decision, but fails to convince her. Ismene warns her sister of the terrible consequences of breaking Creon's law. If they bury Polynices, the mob will capture them and drag them to the scaffold cruelly. They will suffer great pain for breaking the law. As she thinks about such a terrible end, Ismene becomes hysterical and confesses that she definitely cannot support Antigone in her defiant act.
Antigone loves life passionately, but states that she is willing to give up everything to perform her sacred duty to her brother. Ismene reminds Antigone that she is only a girl and is not expected to die for ideas, as a man is. Antigone continues to ignore her sister's pleas. She tells Ismene to go to bed and not to worry. The nurse comes in to serve breakfast, but Antigone is not hungry. Instead, she appeals to Nanny for strength and asks her to protect her, as if she were a child again. She then tells Nanny that she must look after her dog. The nurse is worried about Antigone's strange mood.
Antigone confesses that on this particular morning she feels troubled. She makes Haemon promise that he will go away after she has told him two things. First, she is worried about Haemon's true feelings, and that is why she has dressed up like her sister, Ismene. Secondly, she warns him that she is going to cause him pain by her actions. She then declares that she will never be able to marry him. Haemon is shocked at her words, stares at her in bewilderment and then leaves.
Ismene re-enters and again tries to change her sister's mind by speaking against Polynices. She tells Antigone that "we need you. He was like an enemy in the house. He never thought of you." Antigone tells her sister that her words do no good; she has just returned from burying Polynices.